Marriage, Holiness and Grace

[This is the text of the sermon I preached at the wedding of some dear friends. I trust they will not be angry that I have published the sermon here for others to benefit from. I admit that I took some liberties with my application of Isaiah 6, but not too many. I also confess to sneaking in a reference to David Crowder*Band song lyrics. I hope Crowder doesn’t mind. Be blessed. jerry]

Marriage, Holiness and Grace

1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3 And they were calling to one another:
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”
4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
5 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”
6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

As far as I can tell, the Bible doesn’t have much to say, relatively speaking, about weddings or marriage specifically. I suppose our concept of marriage and weddings is somewhat foreign to Scripture. To be sure, God did say that for this reason a man would leave his father and mother and cleave unto his wife. And, furthermore, Jesus did perform his first miracle, changing water into wine, at a wedding banquet. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that in the book of Revelation the consummation of the church’s life and history is described in terms of a wedding between a man and a woman.

As images for the relationship between God and His people, Christ and the Church, marriage is an appropriate metaphor. It describes at once the beauty of intimacy, the glory of fidelity, the joy of friendship, and the grandeur of love. It at once shows us a picture of protection and comfort. We can speak on these things all day long if we like, but I’d like to talk about two other ideas that are married to the marriage and I think demonstrated for us here in Isaiah 6—a text that you may not normally associate with marriage and weddings.

These things might not normally be thought of in marriage. They might seem givens. They might seem irrelevant. They might seem out of date, but I believe that in a marriage that is blessed by Christ they will be evident and courageously practiced.

The first is holiness. I firmly believe that at the heart of marriage—given to us at the beginning by God—is about holiness. Most people get married in today’s world because they fully hope and expect to be happy forever. I’m not suggesting we should get married with the expectation of being unhappy as if unhappiness will make us holier. That’s not what I’m suggesting at all. But I am suggesting that in the divine economy, marriage is far more about your holiness in the Lord than it is about your happiness in each other.

This is why so many marriages fail, Christian and not-Christian alike.

It seems to me that after 17 ½ years of marriage I have had to learn that someone else matters in this world far more than I do and that as such there were aspects of me that were ugly, terribly ugly. We see that in the presence of God—our true selves, our true ambition. Marriage has a unique way of teaching us that we are not quite as important as we, in our own eyes, presumed. Marriage has a way of opening our eyes to the truth about ourselves.

To love someone else more than the self is, I believe, part of the essence of holiness. That doesn’t fully capture it, but it approaches it. Holiness means that we begin to shake off those parts of us that are imperfect, unrefined, and completely self-absorbed that we may give our whole self to another. Holiness means that we begin, actually, to be made complete. To be made holy means that we are at some level incomplete.

Marriage begins to make us whole—which is not to suggest that marriage is the only way to be made whole—but only to suggest that in marriage we are made whole.

Isaiah came into the presence of a holy God and was undone. I think as you wed today in the presence of God you are taking your first steps to being undone. Holiness is about God remaking what is broken and making you wholly alive, wholly other (as you two become one flesh), and whole.

This is what Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing of the water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” Not to make her happy; but to make her holy.

The second is grace. Isaiah came into the presence of a Holy God and instead of that Holy God striking him dead, that Holy God cleansed him and made him pure.

If misconceptions about holiness and happiness cause the downfall of many marriages, lack of grace causes the downfall of most and the rest. We have created a culture where the sin of Genesis 3 and the blame of Genesis 3 have triumphed over the grace of Genesis 3. In other words: we find it much easier to sin and to blame than we do to assume responsibility and to forgive. Much of this has to do with pride. Marriage has a way of breaking down pride. Grace and forgiveness go a long way to humbling the arrogant and deepening the well of grace we can dispense to others. Marriage is a lifetime of grace and forgiveness.

You know, one of the things that bugs me about my own marriage is that it seems I am the one who always has to say I’m sorry. It seems that when there is an argument or a fight or a disagreement I am always the one who has to go to Renee and say, “I am sorry; will you forgive me?” I don’t know why that is. Oh, wait, yes I do. I am nearly always wrong. Seriously. A temper tantrum here, a harsh word there, a snide remark instead of a loving brush, and inconsiderate avoidance instead of a compassionate caress, or a selfish consumption of time instead of a generous display of affection.

But this has taught me about Christ, because I can honestly say that there is nothing that Renee hasn’t forgiven me. She has spared no amount of grace. She has reserved no amount of mercy. She has retained no right to double-jeopardy. She has always received my apologies with grace and kisses, with affection and quiet rebuke. Marriage is humbling. She has, time and time again, shown me the necessary grace to allow our marriage to grow in holiness. Time and time again, because of her grace, I have been undone.

If I put the burden of holiness in the marriage on the man, then I put the burden of grace upon the woman. I think this is why Paul told wives to ‘submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which is the Savior.” It is no secret, and I have bared my heart, that men are often in far more need of grace than women when it comes to marriage. Paul’s words here do not mean ‘be a doormat.’ They mean, be a savior; demonstrate grace; come under his care and protection; be an instrument of grace. If the husband protects the wife through holiness, the wife protects the husband through grace.

The man confronted with his burden, ‘woe is me,’ he cries. And there, in the marriage, he finds grace and salvation even as Isaiah found grace and salvation even as the church finds grace and salvation, even as you will find grace and salvation.

So I charge you today not with wishy-washy sentiments about the bliss and joys of marriage. Marriage is hard work. Holiness does not come in a day; it is a lifetime project. Grace is not a one time coupon; it is an every day project. I charge you today in the presence of God and these witnesses: [Man], protect and perfect holiness in your marriage. [Woman], proffer and practice grace in your marriage.

If you keep holiness and grace before you, you will constantly be undone. But if you keep them before you, what will happen to your love? Even though you are undone, your love with prosper, Christ will truly be honored, and you will become the One. When holiness and grace collide, it is a beautiful collision.

May all your collisions be for the glory of God.

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